Sporting KC pulls a stunner while Toronto struggles on

Sunday July 21st, 2013

Graham Zusi (left) and Sporting KC claimed temporary MLS supremacy with their win over RSL.
Rick Bowmer/AP

Sporting Kansas City stunned Real Salt Lake with only seconds left to settle the battle of MLS' top two teams, while Camilo scored again, Toronto's home woes continued and the L.A. Galaxy surged into the playoff spot.

Match of the day

Sporting Kansas City 2, Real Salt Lake 1

The top club in the East faced the best in the West, and RSL's eleven-game unbeaten run was ended in the most dramatic style possible as Ike Opara met Graham Zusi's corner to head in a 97th-minute winner.

Though the teams rarely meet, this was a tense, tetchy occasion that made for a difficult night for the inexperienced referee, Matthew Foerster. Neither side was at full strength, but that did nothing to diminish the sense of occasion.

Injuries and Gold Cup call-ups meant RSL was missing goalkeepers Nick Rimando and Josh Saunders, as well as Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio and Tony Beltran. SKC was without Matt Besler, who was added to the U.S. roster for the tournament's knockout rounds, and the injured Paulo Nagamura.

RSL's Chris Wingert flattened Kei Kamara after only five seconds with a challenge worthy of Aurelien Collin, SKC's terminator of a center back. It was a signal that RSL, typically more about possession than aggression, was aiming to match Sporting's physical approach from the get-go. Wingert was booked for the foul, which would later prove crucial.

The visitors should have taken the lead in first-half stoppage time when Zusi pulled the ball back from the by-line for Soony Saad. The 20-year-old scored twice last week against Toronto but missed the target from inside the six-yard box here.

Joao Plata cleared off the line for RSL early in the second half and his club went ahead after 56 minutes thanks to a rare mistake from Jimmy Nielsen, last year's MLS goalkeeper of the year. He came out of his net to claim Javier Morales' free kick but misjudged the ball's flight and failed to make a clean connection, knocking the itupwards and giving Robbie Findley the chance to head in from close range.

Peter Vermes' resilient team was level eleven minutes later. Shortly after Wingert was sent off for picking up a second yellow card, Saad hooked in a close-range equalizer amid a messy scene as RSL's defense wasted several chances to clear a free kick.

After SKC substitute Benny Feilhaber shot straight at goalkeeper Jeff Attinella in the 89th minute, it seemed as if the match would end in a tie that would have been a fair outcome. Instead, Kansas City extended its lead in the Eastern Conference to four points on a day when its nearest rivals -- the Montreal Impact, New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union -- were all involved in goalless draws.

Predictably upset, Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis told reporters afterwards that Foerster's judgment in handing out cards was "pathetic...he never controlled the game, never...for me it's just experience. This is a young referee."

Player of the day

Camilo Sanvezzo, Vancouver Whitecaps

No one looks likely to come close to the haul of 27 goals that saw Chris Wondolowski claim last year's Golden Boot, but this could still be an outstanding year for goalscorers.

We are just past the halfway point and four players have ten goals or more: Camilo, Mike Magee, Marco Di Vaio and Jack McInerney. Until Wondolowski's stellar 2012, no one had scored 20 times in a season since Landon Donovan in 2008.

This year the quest to be top scorer might be a race and not a procession. The Vancouver Whitecaps' diminutive Brazilian leads the pack with 13, one ahead of Magee, who scored from the penalty spot on Saturday.

Left alone by the Los Angeles Galaxy defense in the first half on Saturday night, Camilo ran clear and finished confidently past Carlo Cudicini. The opener proved to be in vain, as L.A. went on to win 2-1, the decisive goal courtesy of a fine strike from Gyasi Zardes.

It's not surprising that Camilo exudes self-belief: he has scored ten goals in his past eight matches. The strike at the StubHub Center took him past the total of 12 he managed in MLS in 2011, his impressive first season with Vancouver. But last year was a disappointment as he found the net only five times in the league.

Camilo -- who is 25 as of Sunday -- joined the Whitecaps after a trial following spells in Malta and South Korea.

Capable of scoring from set-pieces as well as open play, and of being direct or subtle, he clearly deserves his place on the roster for the forthcoming All-Star game. No wonder that some in Canada are hoping he obtains citizenship and becomes eligible for the national team.

Stat of the day

367 - Days since Toronto FC won at BMO Field in MLS play

Saturday's goalless draw with the New York Red Bulls marked an unhappy anniversary for the Canadians, who have now endured more than a year without an MLS victory at their home stadium. That is 16 league matches since a 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids on July 18, 2012.

The only MLS home win this season for Ryan Nelsen's side came at the Rogers Centre, when Toronto beat Sporting Kansas City on March 9. At BMO Field it has given up stoppage-time equalizers to both the Los Angeles Galaxy and Houston Dynamo.

July has been a month full of upheaval at the club. Captain Darren O'Dea left last week to join Ukrainian club FC Metalurh Donetsk. Earlier this month, Luis Silva was traded to D.C. United and Danny Califf retired. O'Dea's performances certainly did not merit his status as the highest-paid defender in the league, and the departures free up cap space to continue a makeover so extreme it deserves its own reality TV show.

The club is now approaching 30 transactions since the end of last season. Displays were promising at the start of this year, but now that it is obvious that Toronto will join D.C. United in failing to make the playoffs there is no real harm in continuing the sort of major surgery that is normally best done during the winter.

In fact, if the club does sign a big-name Designated Player before the August 8th deadline, it might act as a defibrillator to restart this flat-lining campaign, providing some buzz to suppress the boredom. Toronto has won only twice in 20 MLS fixtures this season.

Three points against New York was never likely, especially without injured top scorer Robert Earnshaw, but Toronto played well against a listless opponent and claimed a decent result. Still, what use is faint praise? This is a club in need of a star, an identity and some credibility. That the average attendance is 19,592, eighth-best in MLS, is a minor miracle under the circumstances. Time for the club's owners, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, to make good on the last word in their name.

Goal of the day

Luis Silva, D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire

Silva's strike was beautiful but futile, as United was 4-0 down at the time. In fact, Ben Olsen's men were 2-0 behind after 11 minutes. Still, on a night of collective disaster for D.C., at least there was a moment of individual triumph for the 24-year-old on his United league debut.

The midfielder was traded from Toronto on July 9 and showed off his technical ability with a terrific high curling shot from 25 yards out. Yet another reminder of how dangerous it is to allow talented players time, space and a clear sight of goal, even far outside the penalty box.

It was the kind of strike deserving of an exuberant celebration, but the circumstances made that impossible. Chicago would go on to win 4-1 at Toyota Park, though at least in Silva there is the hint of a brighter future for United. Just not this year.

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